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From A World to Win News Service:

The Dominican Republic, April 1965: A powerful popular revolt unexpectedly explodes in the Yankee "back yard"

May 4, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


27 April 2015. A World to Win News Service. This April marks two events a half a century ago that need to be remembered. One was the uprising that began apparently out of nowhere on 24 April 1965. Thousands of Dominican people, including some of the poorest, took up arms and, for a time, began to take their country and history into their own hands. It was one of those rare moments whose reverberations ripple for decades. The other was on 28 April 1965. Washington, terrified by the prospect of "losing" the Dominican Republic and all that would mean for global resistance throughout the U.S. empire, sent tens of thousands of U.S. troops to keep the republic in the hands of men Washington felt it could trust.

Those were complicated times in the Dominican Republic. A variety of forces were contending for power. There were the generals, some of the biggest exploiters, and the Catholic Church, who wanted to continue the regime built by General Rafael Trujillo. For three decades this notoriously sadistic tyrant had ruled through a combination of undisguised terror, generalized corruption and full backing by the U.S. but had become increasing isolated. After a dispute with the U.S., he was assassinated in 1961, probably with CIA complicity. There were other ruling class forces who sought their own arrangements with the U.S., nationalists of various sorts, and organizations that considered themselves revolutionary. Of the most prominent, one was very influenced by the Cuban revolution and the other by Mao Tsetung and the Chinese revolution. Because of the decades of open terrorist dictatorship, these previously clandestine groups were the country's only real mass political parties.

The contending forces at the top fell into a stalemate and some called on the capital's ordinary people to come into the streets. The strength, rapidity and determination of the popular response was unexpected by nearly everyone. Thousands of people began to arm themselves with Molotov cocktails and weapons given out by junior army officers or procured in raids against police stations, a particularly hated target because of the police's direct and daily role in brutalizing and robbing people. Events slipped out of the control of those attempting to ride them.

A key point was the famous battle at the Duarte Bridge. Trujillo regime's elite troops, trained by the U.S. to keep everyone in terror, even the rest of the army, left their fortress on the east side of the Ozama River and tried to penetrate into the heart of the capital. They were opposed by a few hundred organized soldiers and thousands of civilians from the surrounding slums and the middle classes. Reports from terrified American authorities labelled them a "mob", "looters" and "rioters", but they were organized into combat units called "commandos" with clear military aims.

In fighting extending five blocks along the main road running into and through the city, they beat back the regime's troops. The regime's aircraft took a heavy toll but could not turn the tide. The attacking army units, whose morale was not up to a real battle, fell into disarray.  Even the regime's tanks had to retreat toward the airport that was the main connection with the U.S., guarded by a small force of American soldiers. The rebels were on the verge of a counter-attack and the armed forces on the verge of collapse. What the CIA feared most was that the rebellion would spread to the countryside, link up with the desperately poor peasants and sugar cane workers who made up the majority of the country's population, and go from an urban revolt to a full-scale revolutionary war.

It was then that the U.S. ships waiting offshore landed another 23,000 men, with a similar number in reserve. Although these troops quickly retook the Duarte Bridge, the armed rebels held the central business district and middle class area for several weeks. The U.S. and regime forces cut the capital in two to isolate the rebel areas from the rest of the city and the city from the countryside. Then American troops accompanied the newly rallied Dominican army as it moved through the Barrios Altos slums on the other side of the city, committing atrocities. The resistance went on another eight days. 

There were furious protests throughout Latin America. At a time when Washington was trying to pose as a force for reform in a continent seething with discontent, the U.S. had shown its true face.

U.S. neocolonialism in the Dominican Republic

By 1930, Trujillo had quickly risen to command the Dominican Army the U.S. created after ending its direct rule over the country. As American consul Henry Dearborne later wrote, "He had his torture chambers, he had his political assassinations. But he kept law and order, cleaned the place up, made it sanitary, built public works, and he didn't bother the United States. So that didn't bother us." By "didn't bother the United States," the ambassador meant that Trujillo did not interfere with U.S. business interests or challenge its political supremacy.

To give a few infamous examples of how Trujillo ruled: Considering himself the country's supreme male, the patriarch of all patriarchs, he obligated every Dominican household to put up a plaque saying, "Here Trujillo is the jefe (boss)." He considered any woman of any social class fair game to be kidnapped and brought to him to be raped. His most infamous prison had seawater pits where he literally had political opponents and dissenters fed to sharks.

During World War 2, when the U.S. was fighting its German and Japanese rival imperialists in the name of "democracy", President Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of State said of Trujillo, "He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he's our-son-of-a-bitch." Not long after after Trujillo's death decades later, the U.S. decided that his regime should be perpetuated under the Trujillo stooge Joaquin Balaguer. The "military and police machine built by Trujillo," a senior U.S. intelligence officer noted, "is still intact."

In order to give that regime stability and legitimacy, elections were organized, but the unexpected winner, the social democrat Juan Bosch, was not to Washington's liking. Although some of Bosch's economic and social reforms were not in themselves antagonistic to long-term American interests, whatever his game was, he was not considered a reliable protector of U.S. domination.

The stakes were international: that domination was being challenged not only in what the U.S. arrogantly called its "back yard", as if proximity gave it the right to intervene, but throughout the world, including Vietnam where U.S. troops were already fighting. Revolts against colonialism and necolonialism were intertwined with the rise of the U.S.'s chief rival for world hegemony, the formerly socialist Soviet Union, now itself a capitalist and imperialist superpower. U.S. presidents and political pundits shamelessly declared their concern that the Dominican Republic could become "another Cuba", a country that slipped out of the U.S.'s grip and into the Soviet orbit. Cuba had its admirers even among the Dominican elite and armed forces, to some extent exactly because the fall of the U.S. underboss in Cuba had not been followed by a process of revolutionary transformation of economic and social relationships and thinking.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy made the following analysis of the situation after Trujillo's death: "There are only three possibilities...  a decent democratic regime, a continuation of the Trujillo regime, or a Castro regime. We ought to aim for the first, but we really can't renounce the second until we are sure that we can avoid the third." This is the basic approach of the U.S. ruling class and all imperialist ruling classes in a nutshell: A "decent" regime endowed with the legitimacy of elections and democratic trappings is preferable, but countries must be kept under their control no matter what. The U.S.'s grip over the Caribbean, Central and South America through Trujillo-like regimes when deemed necessary should say a lot about the real nature of the monopoly capitalists ruling the U.S. and the limits of the "democracy" their empire offers.

The U.S. ambassador, sent to be the ultimate authority in the Dominican Republic from behind the scenes, complained that Bosch had refused to take his advice and run the country "with methods once used by the police in Chicago... illegal detention and often worse... I favoured such methods". Bosch, he complained, was not assassinating "Castro/Communists" and had no political prisoners.

Kennedy's successor Lyndon Johnson had attended Bosch's inauguration as president of the only really elected government the Dominican Republic had ever known in many decades, if ever, but within months he ordered that Bosch be toppled. American intervention  eventually brought Balaguer back to power and kept him there for another 12 years.

Of course, the U.S. insisted on "democracy", in other words, elections, and sure enough Balaguer's rule was consecrated through an election. The head of the CIA later admitted that president Johnson had ordered his agency to "arrange"  Balaguer's victory at the polls, but that victory was a foregone conclusion anyway. Bosch himself did not want a frontal confrontation with the U.S. on any playing field. He later said of the Trujillo regime and its continuation under Balaguer, "The Dominican government isn't pro-American. It's American property." But he and his political heirs sought their own alliance with the U.S., and to some degree, eventually, they were to achieve it.

Yet the U.S. kept Balaguer on the stage until his work was done. That work was to attempt to erase the traces and spirit of the popular rebellion by hunting down and murdering, jailing or driving into exile a whole generation of revolutionaries. The game of electoral democracy could not be played until the playing field was mercilessly mowed. Under this prolonged attack and after, many of that generation's rebels tried to get clarity on their goals and how to achieve them. Two crucial and interconnected issues were the nature of the revolution the country needed, and the relationship between this revolution and ruling class splits. There was a tendency to seek to organize a replay of April 1965 with a different outcome. At the same time, some of the dissident elements in the upper classes that had made the regime's isolation in 1965 possible were being brought back into the fold.

Today's Dominican Republic is not like in the Trujillo days. It has a bigger middle class, and many of the former peasants, especially their daughters, work for U.S. and other companies in the free trade zones,  assembling parts made in other countries into consumer goods, or sewing clothing, all for export, mainly to the U.S. The country's economy depends on these manufactured exports, mineral exports and the export of Dominicans themselves, the ten percent of the population who brought their labour power and political ferment to the U.S. Now the country's most important "industry" is tourism, almost another kind of export. It hinders balanced economic development and promotes servitude and all sorts of unequal and oppressive social relations and outlooks throughout society, as does the drug trade, which, as in other Latin American countries, is one of the real main motors of economic development.

Economic development at what price – paid in the past, present and future? In discussing what to do after Trujillo's death, a U.S. adviser wrote that the country had to be "reoccupied and  reconstituted." Today's Dominican Republic, a product of the 1965 U.S. invasion despite changes since then, is still firmly in the grip of the U.S., and its people will never be able to begin to emancipate themselves until that grip is shattered.


For a detailed exposure of U.S. policies and actions in the Dominican Republic in those years, based largely on official U.S. documents and autobiographies by the leading U.S. criminals, see the Web site of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, ironically named after the  U.S. president who ordered the first occupation of the Dominican Republic in 1916:

For a useful annotated bibliography of relevant materials, see www.oxfordbibliographies. Quotes in this article were taken from these two sources.

The novels The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz, Penguin, 2007) and In the Time of the Butterflies (Julia Alvarez, Plume, 1995) each have their own light to shed on the Trujillo period and its aftermath.



A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.


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